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Trade Union Rights December 2020


Trade Union Rights December 2020

This is a quick survey of some of the major trade union issues in the world today, collated from ITUC and the ILO News.

Stories taken from: https://  and


On 30th November 2020, there was a call by the ILO’s Global Business and Disability Network for people with persons with disabilities to be made a priority in the COVID-19 response.   stated that targeted and mainstream actions need to be taken to ensure that disability issues are addressed in pandemic recovery plans.

The ILO’s Global Business and Disability Network went on to say that, “persons with disabilities should be consulted on COVID-19 response measures, so their insights and experiences are taken into account.    It was also reported that, “members of the network also reaffirmed their commitment to retain and hire persons with disabilities and the need for companies to be non-discriminatory in the way they tackle issues arising from the crisis.”

Families in the Covid-19 Crisis

It was reported that 1.7 billion students were affected by school closures at the peak of pandemic-related lockdowns.  Although many have since returned, it is often through remote/hybrid models that require at-home supervision. In early December 2020 it was noted that across the world, as many as 224 million students (over 1 in 10 learners) remained out of school due to ongoing closures. Families have had to make tough decisions about who kept their paid job and who had to leave their job to provide the unpaid care needed at home.   Across the world, it has been mostly women – often paid less and with less job security then men – who have been sacrificing their careers.

It was also noted that, “the pandemic has hit women’s labour market opportunities hardest. According to data from 55 high- and middle-income countries, 29.4 million women aged 25+ lost their jobs between Q4 2019 and Q2 2020. Slightly fewer men lost theirs (29.2 million), but since far fewer women were in the workforce, women’s proportional loss is higher. At the end of Q2 2020, there were 1.7 times as many women as men outside the labour force in these same 55 countries. The same ratio was at 2.1 times in Latin America, a region hard-hit by the economic fallout of COVID-19. The number of women outside the labour force in this region has climbed to 83 million (up from 66 before COVID-19), compared to 40 million (up from 26 before COVID-19) for men.”


Sri Lanka

In early December there was a piece about The ILO’s LEED+ project, which  works with the private sector and local communities in Sri Lanka to develop coco chips as a mutually beneficial business.  

There are an estimated three billion coconuts produced in Sri Lanka annually, and they are a staple of local cuisine as well as a major export commodity. Coco chips are used by gardeners and in agriculture around the world.

Mr Nadaraja recently became a supplier to TropiCoir Pvt Ltd., one of Sri Lanka’s leading exporters of coco substrates. “I never saw coconut husks as a source of income, I did not know anything about business, but was keen to learn,” says Mr Nadaraja as he separated the coconut husks by hand.


It was reported that Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary had noted that the, “settlements and their infrastructure comprise over 60% of the occupied West Bank and take resources that should benefit the people who are under occupation, who are entitled to special protection under international humanitarian law”.

It was further reported that the ITUC welcomed the recently announced measures by the Israeli government that would significantly improve the current permit system for Palestinians seeking work in Israel. The new measures were aimed at overcoming the quota system and establishing direct employment relations between workers and employers.  This would help with the fight against the illicit and lucrative web of labour brokers.  


At the end of November, the ITUC joined a global movement calling for urgent action to deal with the serial, corporate abuse by Amazon. 

The ITUC said that Governments and regulators must step in to stop Amazon:

  •  abusing its dominant market position
  •  squeezing small and medium-sized businesses
  •  dragging down conditions for working people
  •  not paying its fair share of tax


It was reported that even before the COVID pandemic hit, hundreds of millions of workers worldwide were being paid less than the minimum wage.   However since the spread of Covid-19 began, a new report by the ILO suggested that “monthly wages fell or grew more slowly in the first six months of 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic , in two-thirds of countries for which official data was available, and that the crisis is likely to inflict massive downward pressure on wages in the near future.”   It is clear that Covid-19 is driving down wages even further.

Stakeholders invited to debate Future of Work

It was reported in early December that ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, would be discussing the future of work at an event organized by a new open forum platform hosted by the Graduate Institute  in Geneva.

The Thinking Ahead on Society Change (TASC)  Platform was bringing together policymakers, business and labour, researchers and civil society to tackle some of the biggest challenges of the future against the background of rapid transformations in the world of work and the devastation to economies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic .

It was inviting leaders, experts and practitioners from across the global community to combine forces by debating solutions.

It was further reported that. “in a joint letter  to potential platform participants, Guy Ryder, Krystyna Marty Lang, State Secretary and head of Switzerland’s Directorate of Political Affairs, and Marie-Laure Salles, Director of the Graduate Institute urged stakeholders to get involved in the platform.”


It was noted that people with disabilities were less likely to participate in the labour force, experienced higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of employment on the whole than people without disabilities. It was also argued that they faced lower rates of paid employment that provided financial security or social benefits and that more disability-friendly policies were clearly needed to support them and promote their involvement in the labour market.

It was reported that, “the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006, establishes, in Article 27 (on work and employment), “the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others””. As a result of this, they should enjoy the same access to employment opportunities, remuneration and labour rights as people without disabilities.

It was also noted that, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which had been adopted by all United Nations Member States in December 2015, identified people with disabilities as one of several groups of vulnerable people who must be empowered. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contained in the 2030 Agenda made explicit reference to disability in a number of labour market-related targets and their associated indicators.


However, it was noted on December 3rd, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities that a lot still remained to be done …


On the same subject, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the ILO took part in a day-long series of online events across six continents that called for countries to make people with disabilities a priority in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Sustainable Development

It was reported in early December that trade unions had encouraged the members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to rethink the focus of aid and align its financing with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to match the impact of COVID-19.

It was reported that, “on Monday 30 November, trade unions and DAC members met at the Sixth Trade Union – OECD DAC Forum, to discuss the role of development cooperation in building recovery and resilience from the Covid-19 crisis.  The pandemic has laid bare the weaknesses of the current economic model, which has also impacted the way aid is delivered. A paradigm shift is necessary to ensure that aid tackles and prevents poverty and inequality through sustainable responses that support the Decent Work Agenda, universal social protection and the fight against climate change. For this, unions call for a substantial increase of aid volumes, going beyond 0.7 percent of Gross National Income.”

Wages Falling

It was reported in early December that the latest Global Wage Report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) had revealed downward pressure on wages in two-thirds of the world’s countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the crisis hitting the lowest paid hardest.

It was noted that Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, had commented on the report saying: “This report exposes a global wages scandal, with some countries even having a minimum wage that is lower than the poverty line. Seventy-six percent of people in the ITUC Global Poll 2020 do not believe the minimum wage is enough for a decent life. Hundreds of millions of workers are living on the edge, and their plight has only worsened during the Covid-19 crisis, even as tech billionaires and pandemic profiteers extract billions of dollars. It is crucial to guarantee minimum living wages to all workers in order to allow them and their families to live in dignity.”


It was argued that the year 2020 would surely go down as one of the most difficult years on record in recent history. Billions of people around the world had experienced insecurity and suffering. A full recovery was likely to take several years and would require huge efforts by all countries.

However on a more positive note, it was also noted that the disaster that had befallen humanity at the start of the year had once again revealed that we are able to come together and support one another in difficult times. This gave hope for a better future if we managed to learn the lessons from the COVID‑19 crisis.

Through organizations or individually, it was argued that many people had volunteered to help those who needed support and that indeed, most people on the planet had probably done so, given the scale of the crisis.

Saudi Arabia

It was reported on 7 December 2020, that the Government of Saudi Arabia had deposited with the International Labour Office the instruments of ratification for the Protection of Wages Convention, 1949 (No. 95)  and the Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1964 (No. 120) . These instruments had therefore received their 99th and 52nd ratifications, respectively, highlighting the crucial role these instruments played in establishing safeguards in protecting workers’ rights and wellbeing, even more so in the times of COVID-19. Both conventions ha a crucial role in shaping a human-centred response to the crisis.


It was reported that the ILO Governing Body had called for urgent action on seafarer COVID-19 crisis.   A resolution addressed the plight of hundreds of thousands of seafarers who had been trapped at sea for as many as 17 months or longer because of pandemic restrictions.  

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder said that, “the problems faced by seafarers resulting from efforts to contain the virus have lasted unacceptably long. These key workers continue to transport the food, medicines and goods that we need, but their extended periods at sea, and the inability of seafarers ashore to relieve them, are simply unsustainable. The Resolution sets out the actions to be taken urgently.”

Human Rights Day

It was argued on 10th December that on Human Rights’ Day 2020, we must remember that “the denial of human rights, in

cluding workers’ rights, is driving inequality, exclusion, despair and mistrust, while heightening global vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It was further noted that the lack of respect for workers’ basic right to safe and healthy workplaces was exposing frontline workers in many sectors and countries to avoidable Covid-19 infections, while lack of social protection or paid sick leave was forcing people to work when sick. This had terrible consequences both for them and for efforts to stop the virus spreading.


In another article regarding Covid-19, it was noted that the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the associated lockdowns, mobility restrictions and physical distancing rules, had not only led to a significant increase in unemployment and considerable income losses for many people, but had also altered the spending patterns of consumers and the level of price inflation that

demand for certain products and, hence, their prices.

It was argued that, “since the beginning of the pandemic, an increasing number of people have lost their jobs or been obliged to work fewer hours (whether from home or otherwise), thereby experiencing a drop in their income. Consequently, the demand for many non‑essential goods and services has plummeted.”



It was reported that workers’ representatives at the Fourth meeting of the “Social Protection, Freedom and Justice for Workers Network” on 9 December, explained how their organizations’ had contributed to the formulation of national social protection responses to the COVID-19 crisis. They discussed trade union advocacy strategies for social protection at the international level, including the establishment of a Global Fund for Social Protection.

It was further noted that it took place at a particularly challenging moment for workers around the world due to the severe health and socio-economic consequences brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shahra Razavi, Director of the ILO’s Social Protection Department (SOCPRO) commented that, “global crises impose heavy costs on societies. However, there is a great injustice when costs are disproportionately borne by those who do not have comprehensive and. adequate social protection coverage”.


It was reported on 15th December that the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) had signed a strategic partnership agreement for 2021-2022 ,to skill, reskill and upskill people of all ages to overcome the challenge to access decent jobs and increase their opportunities to meet the skills requirements of the labour market. Skills development has an important role to play in the immediate effort to lessen the impact of COVID-19 while the pandemic is active as well as in building the resilience of workers and firms, and in preparing for recovery.

It was argued that the newly signed agreement would contribute to rolling out the ILO Global Programme on Skills and Lifelong Learning (GPSL3 ). The GPSL3 aims to provide coordinated and enhanced support to ILO constituents to develop and implement new generation skills and lifelong learning ecosystems, which recognize that education, training, and lifelong learning are fundamental for a decent future of work. The GPSL3 supports and assists ILO Constituents in 34 target countries in the ILO’s five regions of operations with a focus on:

  • fostering innovation;
  • facilitating the digital transition;
  • managing knowledge and communication, and
  • empowering constituents to take a lead role in providing technical guidance.



In mid-December, it was reported that 81 million jobs had been lost as COVID-19 created turmoil in Asia-Pacific labour markets.  The pandemic had lead to huge reduction in working hours, reverses job growth and pushes millions into working poverty.    It was noted that, “the impact of the crisis has been far-reaching, with underemployment surging as millions of workers are asked to work reduced hours or no hours at all. Overall, working hours in Asia and the Pacific decreased by an estimated 15.2 per cent in the second quarter and by 10.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2020, relative to pre-crisis levels.”


Covid-19 Philippines

It was reported that efforts had been made to overcome the soft skills gap and COVID-19 challenges for women factory and office workers

The ILO, in partnership with the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and Nestlé had piloted the first In Business Online Soft Skills Training to develop soft skills of women and to support their livelihoods during COVID-19.


COVID-19 a threat to peacebuilding

It was argued that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis had uniquely complicated peace and reconstruction efforts in conflict-affected countries, jeopardizing public health responses and threatening peacebuilding efforts.

A joint report co-authored by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), Interpeace, and the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office (DPPA/PBSO) called for tailored and coordinated responses to build and sustain peace in countries affected by conflict.

The publication, From Crisis to Opportunity for Sustainable Peace – A joint perspective on responding to the health, employment and peacebuilding challenges in times of COVID-19 , offered ways to tackle the health crisis, create decent jobs in a conflict-sensitive manner and contribute to peacebuilding.

The report noted that in countries affected by armed conflict or where  the risk of an outbreak of violence was high, the COVID-19 crisis or the response to it could.   “exacerbate grievances, increase mistrust, discrimination and perceptions of injustice over access to health services, decent jobs and livelihoods”.


Universal Protection against the Worst Forms of Child Labour

It was reported that in 2020, for the first time in the ILO’s history, an International Labour Standard had achieved universal ratification, with acceptance by all 187 Member States. Universal ratification of ILO Convention No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) meant that all children now had legal protection against the worst forms of child labour. The landmark achievement came at a significant moment, because the United Nations had designated 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

It was noted that, “countries have made a lot of progress in the last two decades. Global child labour rates have come down from 246 million children in 2000 to 152 million children in 2016. However, this figure is still very high, particularly as half of these children are in hazardous work, defined as a worst form of child labour. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to stall or even reverse the progress of the last 20 years. A generation of children is at risk. At this critical moment we must redouble our efforts – in particular to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7 , to end child labour in all its forms by 2025. Policy choices are important, both to safeguard children during this crisis and to make lasting improvements in their situation. Universal access to free education, child protection systems and decent work for parents and youth of working age are key elements for accelerating progress and increasing resilience against future crises.”

Collated by Peter Sagar, December 2020

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